Stepping Up: Pam Pack has grown rapid rate under new regime

Published 8:33 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Washington’s football team sure had the deck stacked against it this year. It’s Jon Blank’s first year as the head coach. He assembled a staff featuring both new and familiar faces. Former Southside head coach DeWayne Kellum brought a boatload of experience while first-year offensive coordinator Perry Owens offered a new set of eyes.

There was uncertainty as to how the players would respond to the coaching staff’s mission of shifting the team’s culture. Who knew how the coaching staff would mesh? And how would these changes translate to the product on the field, especially with the Pam Pack moving into a new conference?

Throughout the season, there were so many glimpses of what Washington could be in the coming years. There were a bevy of close losses: one point in the season opener at East Carteret and one-touchdown shortcomings in conference against Greene Central and Ayden-Grifton.

There were arguments to be made that, with the regular season coming to a close, the Pam Pack had made strides from its three-win 2016 campaign.
Then, in the finale, Washington proved that, without a doubt, it has improved in just the first year of this new regime. It traveled to West Craven — a team undefeated in the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference that had already clinched the league championship — and emerged with a 47-28 win.

The lopsided victory was the most significant the team had earned in two years. It came against a top-tier opponent. It meant Washington would return to the playoffs after missing out last season. It also marked the fourth win, which is an improvement from 2016.

It was a perfect microcosm of all the strides the Pam Pack has made on the offensive side of the ball. The game was the third time in six conference games Washington had scored 45 or more points (a 45-12 win against North Lenoir and a 67-27 eruption at South Lenoir).

Washington’s offense averaged 16 points per game in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference last season. Blank described the ECC as a “warzone” this season. West Craven sat atop the conference, but a collection of Kinston, Greene Central and Ayden-Grifton all made the top half of the standings tough sledding.

Even so, the Pam Pack offense improved on its scoring average by 20 points per game. Hykeem Ruffin, a player Blank said was initially apprehensive about the cultural changes taking place within the program, led the way. The senior running back wrapped up the year with just north of 1,800 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns in 11 games.

The defense had its lapses when it came to slowing down run-heavy teams that can trudge right up the middle. Even so, there’s no arguing that this program isn’t headed in the right direction. It has an identity on offense — something that has largely eluded it in recent years — and Blank, a defensive mastermind, will right things on that side of the ball.

Washington has its work cut out Friday at third-seeded South Granville. No matter what happens there, this group has laid the groundwork for what Washington hopes is a return to glory.